The California meat supply chain — which is currently seeing the impacts of drought, heat and wildfires — can be improved through policy changes focused around small- and mid-scale meat suppliers and processors, says a recent report by the Food Systems Lab at the University of California, Davis.

California has lost half of its federally-inspected meat processing plants in the last 50 years, and many of the 46 that are still operating are closed to smaller producers, the report says. "Concentration of the meat supply chain is a bad idea,” it says, but adds that small- and mid-scale meat producers face a lack of access to slaughter, limited capacity of cut and wrap facilities and concentration of marketing channels that make it hard for them to stay in business.

The authors recommend that the state create a state meat inspection program and implement a modern system to trace meat and poultry products. In addition, they urge the passage of AB 888, which allows small quantities of livestock animals to be processed at the ranch where they were raised, and AB 125, a bill authorizing the issuance of a bond that would invest $700 million in regional and local food processing and infrastructure. 

“COVID and the ransomware attacks put a spotlight on how the concentration of the meat supply chain increased vulnerability in the food system,” report co-author Tom Tomich, founder of the UC Davis Food Systems Lab and distinguished professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, said in a release. “We need to level the playing field so small- and mid-scale farms have an easier way to bring their product to market.”

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Additionally, the report suggests that to improve market and inspection oversight, the USDA should support improvement to the federal Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act, and that to support high-value marketing opportunities, the California Department of Food and Agriculture should create a small meat processing innovation advisory panel.

“California would be served by a period of rapid experimentation, innovation, and investment to enhance resilience (and reduce vulnerabilities and inequities) in meat production and processing within the state,” the report said. “The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is strategically placed – with its key people and programs – to lead these initiatives to increase meat supply chain resilience.”

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